Every year about this time – some time about the end of summer or the beginning of the school year – I always take a look at the first letter of John in the New Testament. I warned you about this a year ago, in the very first message I brought here, on the very first Sunday.
I think almost every minister has a particular passage that shapes and inspires their ministry. For some ministers, their favorite Scripture is, “You must be born again!” (John 3:7)
Others, their favorite Scripture is, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation!” (Mark 16:15)
Some ministers like to talk about sin and punishment. Others focus a lot of their time on the end of the world or the Second Coming.
Those verses are all there, and I take them seriously. But what I come back to, time and time again, is the passage we’re going to read this morning. It defines who God is. It says who we are. And it tells us what we ought to do. I have never found a better Scripture than this one. And every year, I start the year by coming back to it.
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that God loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside God’s wrath, taking away our sins.
Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and God’s love is made complete in us.
– I John 4:7-12
You know, we could stop right there. Those words express exactly what I believe.
Everything that I preach, everything that I do all week long, everything that I understand, is summed up in the teaching that God is love.
Whoever loves, knows God. Whoever doesn’t love, doesn’t know God. It’s that simple. If I don’t love, I’m a million miles away from understanding the first thing about God. If I don’t love, I have failed the most basic lesson there is.
God is not about rules. God isn’t about punishment. As it says on all those pictures on the Internet, “If your religion makes you hate anyone, then you need a different religion.”
I know a lot of people who need to hear that message. I know a lot of people who need a different religion.
God is more important than any of our political parties. God is bigger than any nation on earth. God laughs at our boundaries, and God weeps at the walls we work so hard to put up and maintain.
Because God is – what? Oh, yeah, that’s right – God is love.
Love is at the heart of everything. If our heart stops beating, we stop living. In the same way, if we stop loving, we aren’t any kind of a church.
Paul reminds us that love is patient. Love is kind. Love isn’t envious, or proud, or rude or boastful. Love isn’t self-seeking – love only seeks the good of everyone. Love doesn’t get angry quickly or easily. It doesn’t keep a scorecard of wrongs that have been done to us.
I’m not making this stuff up. Some of you probably recognize that these are direct quotes from 1 Corinthians 13.
We usually read 1 Corinthians 13 at weddings, when we feel all mushy about love. But in some ways, 1 Corinthians 13 is almost like a self-test or a self-evaluation for us.
Am I impatient with other people? Am I unkind, or rude? Do I have a short fuse? Do I keep track of all the wrong things other people have done to me?
Love isn’t about keeping track of wrong. Love isn’t about playing “he said, she said” for 20, 30 years or more. Love is about saying, “This isn’t how we’re supposed to live,” and then starting over again.
One of the best pieces of marriage advice I ever heard is the question, “Am I the kind of person that I would really like to be married to? Would I put up with the kind of behavior that I do?”
Jesus goes to the heart of what love is all about. “Love your neighbor as yourself. . .” Would I love that other person, if they acted the way I do? Do I put their well-being on something close to the same level as my own? How do I treat my fellow human beings? How do I treat the people I love?
What spirit do I feel when I get up in the morning, or when I go to sleep at night? Do I feel grateful, or aggravated? Do I feel hope, or despair? Do I feel love, or fear and frustration?
This talk about love is very practical. It points the way to where our lives are. We are meant to be lovers. All the way back in Genesis, it says that God made us to be helpers for each other. That’s the purpose which God created us for. If we’re not helping, there’s something wrong going on.
Paul says that love doesn’t celebrate when bad things happen to other people. Love only rejoices when truth breaks out. Love rejoices when people get free from all the lies we live, when we get free from all the falsehood we wrap around us.
Love protects, love builds trust, love always hopes, and love endures all things.
Love outlasts all false alarms and fake prophecies. Love outlasts every other message we hear. It outlasts knowledge of every kind. Everything we know is only partial. But when we come face to face with God, when see our lives in the light of God’s love, we will understand everything we need to know. We will know as we are known.
God sent Jesus to teach us how to love – how to love better, how to love more deeply, how to love more completely, how to love all the time. Jesus is our example. And we need to study what Jesus said and did, and do our best to imitate him. We learn by listening to Jesus, and we learn by doing as he did. Christ is God’s love, revealed among us.
When we come together to be a church, everything we do is supposed to be about loving each other. I want you all to think about the many things we do, and ask yourselves if love is at the center of them.
When we pray for people who are lonely or ill, that’s about love, isn’t it? When we visit people who are in the hospital or the nursing home, we love them.
When we work together to get things done, that’s love cooperating.
When we care about our children and our young people, it’s easy to see that love is at work. We love our kids so much – and as Jesus once said, “If you love your children like that, think about how much more God loves you. . .”
- All the things we do here for our kids need to focus and show them and let them iscover for themselves about the love of God. And not just our kids, but any children we can reach.
- The gifts we send in the shoeboxes.
- The food barrel in the front lobby that’s overflowing – we need to empty that barrel this week, so we can fill it again.
- The cards that Millie sends.
- The blood that people donate.
- The holidays we share, and the celebrations we hold together.
It’s all about love, friends. It’s all about love.
One of the things I like best about church is that people from all different walks of life can get along together here. We don’t all have to come from the same economic level. We don’t all have to have a similar family structure.
We can have different political opinions on Facebook, but when we come here to be a church, we don’t hold those things against each other.
We have people here with strong convictions about all different kinds of subjects. But we know that we’re all children of the same God. We all have different journeys, but those journeys lead us to the same Christ.
We are here to learn how to love. That’s the reason we are put here on earth. That’s why God gives each one of us the breath of life. It’s so we can love each other, help each other, bear each others’ burdens, and share each others’ joys.
God is love. Whoever loves is born of God, and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God. God loved us first, before we even thought about loving. God sent Jesus, to teach us how to love. Since God loves us so much, we ought to love each other.
No one has seen God. But if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is made complete in us.